While Washington still mourns for its Redskins the players scatter around the country for the holidays, General Manager Bobby Beathard is scounting college all-star games, some of the many stops he and staff will make during the coming weeks.
Beathard's mind already is focused on the future of this Redskin team. This past season was a delightful surprise to everyone associated with the club, but unless he drafts well this spring, the success of 1979, could become the horrible disappointment of 1980.
There are valid reasons why the Redskins finished 10-6 this season and why they were dominated so clearly by Pittsburgh. As good as they played, they are not the most talented team in the league. They need better, younger, quicker players at several positions and they need more depth before they can legitimatedly build on the foundation established since the start of training camp last July.
"We are going to be a better team next year," says Coach Jack Pardee without hesitation. But then he throws in this disclaimer: "It might not show up in our record because our schedule may be tougher."
Atlanta's Leeman Bennett might have made a similar statement last year after his Falcons scrambled into the playoffs with a 9-7 record despite predicitions of another ho-hum season.
Now Bennett is wondering what happened to his club in the last 12 months. Atlanta took a nose dive in 1979; instead of building on that playoff showing, it collapsed below .500.
Pardee probably is too talented a coach to let a similar demise occur, unless the Redskins are devastated by the major injuries they managed to avoid this year (with the exception of Ken Houston's broken arm).
But another 10-6 record in 1980 won't be considered progress. Nor will Washington benefit by sneaking up on any opponent. Unlike the past year, the Redskins will be pegged as a playoff contender from the very start. That will add the kind of pressure the 1979 club didn't have to endure.
However, Beathard and Pardee now have a better idea of their needs for the coming few seasons. With Joe Theismann firmly entrenched at quarterback, they don't need to use a high draft pick to solidify that spot. Buddy Hardeman has taken care of kick returning chores and Tony Peters has eliminated any worries at safety. Both Joe Lavendar and Lemar Parrish are young enough to handle cornerback duties for awhile.
John Riggins keeps talking about retiring at age 30, but he is coming off his best year as a pro and is a good bet to show up at Carlisle next summer. Linebacker Brad Dusek continues to play well and tackle Dave Butz is solid in the middle of the defense front.
Beyond those players, there are questions to be answered.
Will Houston return, as he said he would, and what will his role be next season?
Will the Redskins decide to retire tackle Diron Talbert, turning his spot over to either Paul Smith or Perry Brooks, who has the talent to be a decent NFL player?
Will Coy Bacon maintain his starting position or will he become a pass rushing specialist while a young draft choice handles the early down?
Will linebacker Neal Olkewicz continue to hold up in the middle, especially if the Redskins stop portecting him as much with the play of the defensive front?
Will Mike Bragg regain his punting consistency or does the club need to draft a replacement?
Will Dan Nugent make a successful comeback from back surgery and regain a starting guard position at the expense of veteran Ron Saul?
Until the midway point of the season, more questions would have been raised about the offense. But down the stretch, Joe Walton's price and joy performed so well that there is now talk at Redskin Park about switching the draft's emphasis to defense.
The Redskins wound up averaging 306 total yards and 21 points a game. In their final six contests they went over the 28 point mark five times after a mid-season slump in which they struggled to score even two touchdowns on a Sunday afternoon.
Theismann, his career blossoming at 30, should get better and better now that he has made believers out of his critics. The offensive line will be stronger physically, especially if Nugent plays with the kind of aggressiveness fellow guard Jeff Willimas displayed this season. Don Warren has the potential to be a fine tight end and Mark Mosley is the premier field goal man in the NFL.
Even the wide receiver corps, which was a major weakness for weeks, finished strongly. Danny Buggs had a career high of 46 catches and both John McDaniel (25) and Ricky Thompson (22) also improved just when the offense started scoring more consistently.
The development of the receivers directly affects the draft, in which the Redskins have nine in 12 rounds. Instead of being a priority, as it once was, now Pardee admits an offensive end has been pushed further down the list. w
That leaves two major draft items: a speedy running back and a pass-rushing defensive lineman.
Although Benny Malone is an exquiste blocker and a hard-nosed player, he doesn't have the quickness the Redskins ideally would like at halfback.
The club would like to pick up a talented back and ask him to play primarily on the early downs while continuing to employ pass catching specialists on third down. That way, the rookie could be brought along quicker than if he was asked to learn the complete duties of the position -- and the Redskins might be able to score on one long play for a change.
But if a top quality defensive lineman is available when the Redskins choose in the first round, they might opt for this position and try to tab a runner in round two, in accordance with the feeling that there is more depth at halfback in the draft than any other position.
"We probably could get a back who could play a lot for us in the second round or even later," one team source said. "You probably aren't going to get that lucky with defensive linemen."
Lack of pressure on the quarterback hurt the Redskins dearly against Dallas. The Cowboys riddled the Washington defense, as did Cincinnati, and the club wound up surrending more total yards on the season than its own offense managed to gain.
While both Butz and Karl Lorch on one side of the defensive front proved consistent against the run, neither was very successful sacking quarterbacks. The two aging veterans on the other side, Tablert and Bacon, were run on constantly, but improved as the season progressed and they also provided the club's major pass rush.
Brooks will be given every chance in training camp to earn a tackle spot, as will any high draft choice. There also will be spirited competition at outside linebacker, where Pete Wysocki will try to hold off youngsters Monte Coleman and Rich Milot. And the coaching staff will have to decide whether Houston will keep his strong safety position, where he has starred for years, or become a nickle specialist.
On offense, the line should be stronger after making great strides this season. Along with Nugent's return, the potential of injured reserve players like guard Gary Anderson and tackle Mike Gibbons could precipitate more changes. And tackle Greg dubinetz, who made the roster as a free agent this season, might have a shot at a starting berth if he could become more physical.
"Bobby showed this season he could help us with limited choices," Pardee said. "I'm sure this year, with a lot of his choices around, we are going to be able to locate some fine players to help us even more."